One of the most thrilling things that came from writing my Dream Keeper Series was being able to delve into the nightmares of children. It was fun to explorer the realms that scare kids. One thing that I’ve been asked is how do you know when the ‘scary stuff’ is too much?
I believe kids can handle a lot more than we give them credit for. Look at the Harry Potter books; there is some scary stuff in there that kids didn’t pick up on because they think differently than adults. They don’t worry, like a parent, about losing a child to a dark wizard. Adults fear tangle things that may or may not happen, like death, an attacker, a break in, a terrorist act, and natural disasters. All these things have happened and we as adults fear they could happen to us. That is what is scary for adults. Sure kids have similar fears too, but it is the unknown that is scary for kids. Not knowing is worse than knowing.
When I write to scare kids I try to emphasize the dark hidden things. I try to look at what kids are afraid of and set that as my goal. I did a lot of research into what kids are afraid of. What I found interesting is the number one thing kids are afraid of is the dark. Kids are afraid of the unknown. They fear what might be there hiding. I built off that fear in creating the nightmares for my book. I did find myself pulling back on some of the scenes in the book, but only when I found myself questioning if that was just too freaky or not. Mostly I ignored it, knowing I’m a wimp compared to most kids.
Need some research books? There are tons of short story collections all about ghosts that promise to scare your socks off. Here are a few to start with. Each has a unique way the author implements terror into their writing:
HALF-MINUTE HORRORS, anything ghost related, THE SCARY SCHOOL SERIES (written by ghosts), FEAR by RL Stien, NOCTURNE by L.D. Harkrader, THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE SERIES by Jacqueline West, A TALE DARK AND GRIMM by Adam Gidwitz, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK and CORALLINE by Neil Gaiman, CASE FILE 13 SERIES by J Scott Savage, THE GILDA JOYCE SERIES by Jennifer Allison, and THE DREAM KEEPER by Mikey Brooks. (Yes I had to include my book.)
I believe kids love to read scary books because it pushes boundaries and makes reading fun. If you are interested in writing for kids and want to scare them, first think about what scared you as a child, then ask kids—they love to share experiences, and read the books I’ve listed above. There are many many more I could give but this is a good start. Happy Writing!